We wrap up this analysis series with the props. The returning talent is top notch while the new talent includes both experienced pros and exciting youth. When this unit is at full strength, it should be a force to be reckoned with. However, there are still concerns around depth and foreign player caps.
|Jack Iscaro||Ramiro Herrara||Jake Ilnicki|
|Kyle Stewart||Quentin Newcomer||Jack Carroll|
|Cali Martinez||Dante Lopresti|
|Alex Balladares||Will Vakalahi|
Quality returning starters
Returning are the two starters from last year: Jack Iscaro on the loosehead side and Kyle Stewart on the tighthead side. Iscaro is a long time OG who has been rising quickly, from injury in 2020 to a reliable backup in 2021 to an indispensable starter in 2022. He is also now a USA Eagle, having debuted for the national team this fall. Stewart, meanwhile, is a young but experienced prop from New Zealand who started matches on both sides of the scrum last year.
The biggest new signing at the props is Argentine international Ramiro Herrara, who was confirmed only yesterday. The soon-to-be-34-year-old has a decade of top-level experience at top-level professional teams and should be a huge asset at tighthead prop.
Quentin Newcomer is the next most experienced newcomer, coming from the New England Free Jacks. He has proven to be a reliable MLR-level backup and can play on both sides of the scrum. As a Fairfax native, this will be something of a homecoming for him.
Also joining are draft picks Cali Martinez and Alexa Balladares. Martinez was selected third overall and comes in with a lot of hype. With both Canadian and US eligibility, a lot of people will be be watching his performance with an eye towards capping for one of the national teams. Balladares is a local product who has spent a long time in the Old Glory development pathways, including playing with Young Glory.
Significant scaling back
There will be a large exodus this year, though. Canadian international Jake Ilnicki isn't returning, having been decent but unimpressive last season. As a former premiership player and seasoned pro, he seemed like he would have more of an impact when he was signed. Instead, he mostly just played backup to Stewart.
Also leaving are a trio who have been with the team for a while: Jack Carroll, Will Vakalahi, and Dante Lopresti. Carroll joined the team two years ago and has seen intermittent use as a backup. A local who went to Gonzaga High School before pursuing college football, he seemed to be on slow but steady upward trajectory in his rugby career.
Vakalahi was signed a year early, in 2020, and was used heavily in that inaugural season. He spent all of 2021 out with injury, but came back to light usage in 2022. He is the youngest of the departing group at just 23 years old, and it's a bit surprising to see him go after so much has been invested in him by the team. He's not much older than the college draftees coming in to replace him. Recent reporting suggests he may join the Houston Sabercats.
Lopresti has been with the team the longest, a holdover from the original 2019 exhibition team. While he doesn't have a photogenic physique, he has been remarkably versatile for Old Glory. His 22 caps have come at every front row position, with him being the starting hooker in 2020, the primary bench tighthead for most of 2021, and mixture of tighthead and loosehead in 2022. His usage has declined over the last few years, though.
Predicted depth chart
There are two players locked in: Iscaro as the starting loosehead, Herrara as the starting tighthead. One of the players of the bench will be Newcomer, as the next most experienced domestic prop, but after that it gets interesting. Ideally, Kyle Stewart would be one of the players on the bench as well, but that might not be possible with the foreign player limit. That might force one of Martinez or Balladares into immediate action, likely the former. However, there's always a risk when throwing a rookie in, especially at a position that usually requires significant development.
Expectations for 2023
Iscaro and Herrara is an exciting proposition, pun not intended. Two internationals, one young, one old, as the starting duo? Sign me up! I'm also excited to see how the young guys develop. With two draftees at prop, we'll get to see how they take to the higher level. Martinez in particular comes with a lot of hype, and it will be interesting to see how he progresses over the season. If everyone stays healthy, this could be a top tier front row.
Unfortunately, as with many positions on this year's roster, depth is an issue. While six props is much more reasonable than the five that OGDC originally announced, it's still not a lot. it wouldn't take too much before the team would have to have players switching sides of the scrum to cover. If the injury bug makes the rounds, it could get dicey.
Check out the rest of the series: